On WBAI radio's The Morning Show, we’ve spent a great deal of time discussing real estate in this city. That includes analyzing Mayor de Blasio’s so-called affordable housing plan; inclusionary zoning, and the corporate welfare program for developers, 421a. But today, we’re looking at a different element, one about which many NYers aren't aware: that city gardens are once again at great risk. But this time, it’s the de Blasio administration--not Rudy Giuliani who is spreading the myth that the city can't have both. The guests to discuss this are: Felicia Young, Founder/executive director of Earth Celebrations and Aziz Dehkan, executive director of the NYC Community Gardens Coalition. Welcome.
Young describes what it was like organizing around gardens in the early 1990s, primarily on the Lower East Side where open space is severely limited. In 1996, then-Mayor Giuliani advocated selling off anddeveloping more than 800 gardens though out NYC. By forming a coalition of gardeners across the city--including from Harlem, the Upper West Side, the Bronx, and in Brooklyn--they were able to form the NYC Garden Preservation Coalition which evolved into the NYC Community Gardens Coalition.
Both explain how similar the two struggles are, especially because both administrations are using the same false narrative pitting gardens against affordable housing or even senior housing. Each mayor espouses the fallacy NYC can't have both kinds of community assets. Moreover, Dehkan notes developers are getting rock bottom deals to build "affordable housing" that does not address the true needs for low income housing. It is instead a land grab that pits community gardens against housing needs.
Young and Dekhan also point out how both administrations are guilty of picking on community gardens--many of which have existed for decades--despite an ample number of nearby empty lots. Across the five boroughs, there are plenty of examples where the city's Housing Preservation and Development (HPD) agency consciously chose existing gardens over vacant lots for development.
In fact, DNAinfo reported that of more than 1,000 HPD-owned vacant lots, approximately only 74 contain community gardens.
Young explained in the 1990s, they systematically identified these vacant lots to prove that housing and gardens could co-exist. "We showed that the gardens were not blighted vacant lots as the city displayed on... maps, but thriving educational, community, cultural centers and vital open green space in neighborhoods that had few city parks and open green space."
For Dehkan, much of the travesty over gardens has to do with the lack of transparency in the process. Too often, a neighborhood is only notified about development plans after the fact, and local community boards are often too co-opted.
Young also notes how critical the gardens are particularly post-Hurricane Sandy. After the LES was devastated by flooding, the preserved gardens assumed a new role towards future resiliency: ecological sustainability of this urban neighborhood to reduce the impacts of flooding, storm surges, and pollution-run off which are occurring with increasing frequency due to the consequences of climate change.
Adds Dehkan, community gardens are being taken at a time when it is even more important to save open, green spaces. They "are carbon sequesters, and play a part in climate change mitigation."
Young issued Mayor de Blasio a challenge. Just after the president withdrew the US from the Paris Climate Agreement, BDB pledged to abide by the treaty's terms and that NYC would do its part to continue sustainability. "There is no better place to prove this pledge," Young asserts, than by fostering the growth of already-proven gardens, not by pushing for their destruction.
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